Paint a Canvas of Africa

I really wish I knew how to draw/paint; I’ve always dreamed of one day being able to pick up a paint brush and getting lost in colour, textures and emotion. Maybe it’s a block, maybe it’s not, but for now I’ll settle with knowing how to draw stick people, stick flowers, stick mountains and stick cars. I am constantly in awe of people who have the talent.

There’s something about art, music and words that draws us closer to God, nature, to our essence of being human and strips us to our basics. They make us authentic. Think about that love song that once made you cry, smile or laugh. Or the words of a friend, or from religious scripture that gave you courage and hope. There so many examples to pick from.

Stephen Covey in his renowned book the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People reminds us that the creative process is one of the most, if not the most terrifying part of being human because you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen or where it is going to lead. You don’t know what new dangers and challenges you’ll find. It takes an enormous amount of internal security to begin with the spirit of adventure, discovery, and creativity. Without doubt, you have to leave the comfort zone of base camp and confront an entirely new and unknown wilderness.

Creativity is indeed the God-force extending itself through us and to us; the artist is the channel. Art evokes emotion, one gets lost in its dimensions and finds themselves again.

There’s an art piece that does just that for me. ‘Misguided Little Unforgivable Hierarchies’ by Wangechi Mutu.

This piece grapples with the sensitive topic of female oppression and the need for women’s empowerment to achieve our development goals as a continent.

Ms. Mutu has kept the story of the female at the centre of this piece and it’s a reminder that women and girls are the backbone of society. Through this piece of art she depicts women’s ‘bodies’ as the place where various social hierarchies are inscribed and as the place most vulnerable to change social norms; transforming them for the better. It attempts to break down the barriers that stifle progress in society.

This piece depicts a man, woman and monkey on top of each other doing a risky balancing act. The man is crouched down with his head facing up, feet firmly perched on the grass and mouth ajar expectant of the woman to meet his needs. While the woman on the other hand is above him bending over backward as if to reach his mouth but her arms are being held back by the monkey.

The woman bending over backwards is a reminder of female oppression which continues to engulf the African society today. This same woman who is expected to meet the man’s needs is being held back by tradition. The blood splotches portray to me the effect of a relationship rooted in abuse.

Dear readers, talks on gender equality is not noise. If one looks at the richest nations in this world, particularly if we zero in on the Nordic countries, one will realize that they have cemented the fact that achieving gender equality is not idealistic when improving society; it’s mandatory and they have kept their aspirations on this lofty. I encourage you to do a study and one of the things you’ll realize is that the development institutions in these countries report to the gender and finance Ministers. Closer to home, have a look at Rwanda, the country that holds the no. 1 position in the global ranking of women in parliament.There’s nothing obscure on why these strong economies do so.

Where women are given equal opportunities they make a real and lasting difference for everyone. Too many studies have been done and the results have indicated the same thing, when you invest in women, you invest in generations; women invest back in their families 90% of their income, men 30%. This is not about power play, it’s about interdependence.

This piece continues to challenge me especially when thinking about the current state of affairs in Africa, and the changes that need to be made for effective and sustainable development.

Which creative piece does this for you?

Building better, resilient and safer cities: the Happiness Index

Instruction in youth is like engraving in stones-Berber proverb, North Africa.

Growing up in the urban cities of Mombasa and Nairobi, I thought to a large extent that better livelihoods equated to access to food, education, clean water, good health, clothes and shelter for all with the underlying factor being money. The basic needs as we know them; however there’s more to it. Today, I have come to learn and appreciate certain aspects of life that are easily overlooked; one of them being the happiness index.

The world is slowly shifting public policy from being a mere representation of cold numbers to a more candid reflection of the well being of its citizens. It no longer is about calculating GDP and economic statistics alone,  there is more to life and economic indicators by themselves are a poor representation of a people; people in essence do not eat nor dance with GDP. The happiness index reflects citizens’ actual living conditions and quality of life and inculcates social indicators; the extent to which countries deliver long, happy, sustainable lives for the people that live in them.

Are you smiling more often today? If so can you pin point the ingredients that have cooked this feel good factor?


Statistics indicate that urban cities are home to a large number of youth in the African continent and these numbers continue to grow by the day. This brings new issues to the forefront of economic, political and human development both in a positive and negative light. The increase in numbers has inadvertently raised the challenge of addressing inequality caused by rising unemployment which has further exacerbated insecurity in many urban settings. This rapid urbanization is a ticking time bomb if wide arrays of issues are left unabated.

Estimations show that by the year 2050, 7 in 10 people will be urban dwellers and that 60% of all urban dwellers are expected to be under the age of 18 by 2030.

Naturally, before you can fix something you’ve got to analyze and quantify it and urbanization in and of itself requires a reintroduction of lasting solutions which among them includes bringing youth on board as partners to find legitimate and inclusive ways to enhance the sustainability and quality of life for all people living in cities; ultimately supporting the realization of sustainable urbanization and decent housing for all as espoused in UN-HABITAT’s mandate.

Youth, especially those living in informal settlements will tell you that among their most prized possessions are open spaces which bring them together with their friends and family. Some of these spaces measure 40×20 metres, others much smaller. These spaces are utilized for sporting activities such as football and volleyball which are quite popular or for community barazas to discuss issues affecting the larger society which creates a sense of belonging.


(Pic courtesy of

“Life can be quite tough, a sense of belonging gives us sanity,” one of the youth in Mathare tells me. Some people have argued that a stronger sense of community and culture often gives them a naturally more upbeat and cheerful outlook on the world, some argue that it doesn’t. The evidence is blatant nonetheless.

These public spaces are not only venues for recreation and social interaction, but are also critical for innovation and entrepreneurship which supports economic development. These dynamics are well known however why is it that we still do not create these spaces especially in informal settlements? In today’s world, any space means money and this economic opportunity means more concrete jungles. Accessing these open spaces in informal settlements where even an acute space originally planned for a toilet will be exchanged for habitation is indeed a dirty fight for the youth.

The team at UN-HABITAT is working diligently with grass root organizations, local and national governments to actualize these public spaces. Such like organizations in Kenya are Sisi ni Amani, One Stop Youth Resource Centre, Kibera Soweto Resource Centre which are located in Mathare and Kibera respectively and the Kimisagara One Stop Youth employment and productive centre in Rwanda among many others. Their collaborative efforts have transformed garbage and burnt spaces into environmental, health and recreational centres where youth especially those from informal settlements are interacting with one another and with youth serving agencies. The groups work hand in hand with the larger community gaining their buy in and support in the projects which has made it community owned and sustainable.


(Dance group at the Kimisagara centre. Pic courtesy of

“We are happier, more active, more united.You’d be surprised what an open space can do,” Kaka, coordinator of the Mathare Environmental slum soccer initiative.


(The slum soccer initiative by Mathare Environmental youth, Sisi ni Amani and One Stop Youth Resource Centre)

Video series: Experiences and Lessons from the field on Silencing the Guns in Africa: Strengthening Democratic Governance

What are experiences and lessons if they do not evoke an emotion out of you to do better?

This session was moderated by the eloquent, graceful and beautiful Ms. Belinda Moses, Co-founder and COO, San Media.


In beginning this discussion, Ms. Moses raised the pertinent aspect of embracing media to showcase, complement and enhance the discussions being held.The video below depicts the atrocities of war and undoubtedly does have some graphic images but all the more reason to watch it to the end.

Prof. Ndioro Ndiaye, former minister for Women and Children, Republic of Senegal, a panelist in the session reiterated the need for promotion of good governance from the ground up and not in the reverse. Her point of view was expounded further by Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Former Executive Governor of Ekiti State, Nigeria, who emphasized the need for creating social safety nets for young people to implement the same. “We must turn around corrupt and unaccountable governments in Africa by strengthening democratic governance institutions,” he stated.

“We have a diverse youth in Africa and unfortunately there is a segment of the youth becoming poorer, we need to cater to them,” reiterated his counterpart H.E Mme Maya Sahli, Fadel Commissioner, African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights.

Dr. Vasu Gounden, Executive Director ACCORD took us down memory lane as he recollected the sobering misdeeds that were undertaken in 1994 when South Africa avoided a massive blood bath. This is when the right wing movement attempted to curtail all progress made on democracy. This included 50,000 armed men who had been thoroughly trained to kill and destroy during the country’s first elections. How the country was able to surmount this challenge is a miracle. Kindly watch below:

Dr. Gounden informed the audience of the consequences brought about by profound socio-economic inequality. Today, South Africa has one of the highest numbers of social protest and it comes as no surprise. “We need to close the gap in development and education. When people enter politics because they have no other alternative to close their own personal gaps, then we are in trouble,” he stated.

Ibraheem Sanusi  rightly put it when he stated that we should strive to not only want a continent not at war, but one that respects and upholds human rights and builds peace together.

Here’s a video that sums it up. #DGTrends

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